tv [untitled] CSPAN June 13, 2009 11:00pm-11:30pm EDT
by atrophy of abigail and john. there have been wonderful biographies of john adams and some very nice ones about abigail but none of the marriage. so i decided to write about the two of them in tandem. and, my interest in abigail goes back 30 years to the beginning of the women's movement, and at that time, i am trained as a colonial historian. i did puritans in the entire 17th and 18th century and then, the women's movement came along and i was teaching in southern california and i didn't know how to do women's history. there were very few books. if you went to a bookstore 30 years ago and looked for a shelf on women's books there were very few of them. the only way i could think to do
and of around world war ii, but no contemporary biographies of abigail. so i started writing a biography of abigail adams, and this was a good 30 years ago, and finished it and it was a chronological history of her life from birth to death, and just about the time i was ready to publish a couple of biographies did come out about her and i realized my biography was not different than the other biographies that came about about her. and this salient thing about all of them was that all of her biographies had as its protagonist main character, the hero, john adams. and the reason is john was involved in all of the great historical events of the period
so that when you start writing a chronological biography you keep landing at the stamp act congress or the first continental congress or the peace treaty or one or another of the very famous events and which john was involved and the consequence was he was the hero of all of her biographies so i started thinking about how i could write about her and keep the focus of the book on her. and it occurred to me if i wrote about topics in her life, topics in a woman's life that i could keep the focus on her so that is what i did and that is why i have written so extensively about abigail adams. i have written two books about abigail because each one of them is written not chronologically but on topics in a woman's life about being a wife, being a mother, being a mother-in-law,
about issues that were important and women's lives in the 18th century as well as today very often. and so i wrote a chapter on the correspondence between abigail adams and thomas jefferson that focused on the way that women and men who use language differently. i wrote a topic about the correspondence between abigail and james lovell, a member of the first continental congress, and that chapter focused on gossip because women talk a lot and with this chapter did is rescue the topic of gossip and say it is important in our lives. gossip is how we form communities and we know ourselves to be part of the community. anyway, i wrote these -- i've written 30 years about abigail adams and along came the clinton candidacy, and i thought wow,
now is the time i should start writing about the marriage and focus on the marriage of abigail and john, which i did do. of course history changed in three years and hillary has become instead secretary of state. but that was my starting point for this book. nevertheless, when i started i was left with the same challenge that i had faced when i wrote chronologically about abigail. that was how to write a double biography and keep the focus on abigail and more let it move over on to john, and the way that i did that, the way that i decide to do that was to move john adams alton of the political or the diplomatic sphere and move him into the domestic sphere, the family skier, and so mostly this book
is about the marriage and john as a family man, although eight has to do, to be accurate history, and to tell the context of which the marriage took place, it has to tell the history of the period owls well and a dustin about john's diplomatic and historical participation in the revolution, but the focus is always on the family i hope. another problem i had in writing a double biography was how do you write a double biography. that is how do you write about two people, how do you manage to people and getting them equitable time in a biography and at first i thought maybe i will do like war and peace, one chapter was on war and one was on peace, i could do one chapter on abigail and one on john and then i decided my material didn't take me that way and it wasn't going to be very interesting. it was to formulaic so i thought
what i would do is start one chapter focusing on abigail and start the next chapter focusing on john and that didn't work out either because as i was writing cemeterial didn't take me there's a then i decided what i would do is go where the material took me. and i kept the focus on the marriage showing john when there was more material on john and abigail where there was more material on abigail. so what was great about this marriage? for one thing it was a 54 year marriage, which was incredible, then as now because people done need a lot. but what was most amazing about their marriage is in the 54 years of marriage, for about 25 years, they lived apart a good deal of time. because john was away from home running the revolution, being a diplomat in europe, being vice
president, then president of the united states. and so, that's why we have all of these letters between them because they did correspond, so it was a really remarkable marriage. for eight years the didn't see each other when sean went to europe in 1779 on till 1784 and until abigail went to europe as well, and they corresponded sometimes during the that period but letters were lost at sea and john gindin to -- didn't write all the time so there wasn't a lot of correspondence. when abigail finally did go to europe the marriage resumed again and it's just amazing that this marriage resumed with all of the passion and interest that day of originally had in the
early married years. remarkable to us. of course there wasn't an exit polls from the marriage. they couldn't have gotten divorced. there were grounds for divorce and that period but not any grounds for divorce abigail and john had met. so, it remains remarkable they did resume their marriage so compatible lee, and i felt a lot about why this is and will work the reasons why this marriage worked so well and the first course is that they loved each other. and from the early meeting between the two of them there was immense attraction. but love is a word that is clich. i don't mean in love, i don't
mean a lot in a political sense of all the beautiful words you find in poetry and pictures, i mean loved in what i think was an 18th-century sense and that is they had the capacity to be generous with each other, that each one of them was able to give endlessly to the other without expecting in return that there would be reciprocity and that certainly was the case on abigail sport. the fact that they could sacrifice their own daily, personal, monthly, deily happiness for the other person and that is the way that i came to believe and think about the 18th century loved. they were also very compatible. there was parity in their marriage. john and treated abigail with respect and admiration, which
she deserved. but 18th century was a period of time women were subordinate to men and there was a great deal of difference with an expected to give and men accepted from women, and that was not the case. it was a kind of mutual understanding that the other person had great talent and there was an equal the in this marriage that was on usual in the 18th century. another very important factor in the 18th century was the compatibility religion and abigail and john were both very religious people, so there was no tension around their religious beliefs. religion in the late 18th century to both of them was i said it's like the air that people believe. religion was something that just
was, and it was not something that people chose or didn't choose. it was built into people's beings, a belief system so that both abigail and john were believers and both of them believe in an afterlife. i do think abigail ms. moore religious or more conservative and her religion than john but both of them were religious people and respectful of that and out of that came a value system that was unique to their generation. a value system that confirmed the difference between right and wrong and what was good and what was bad, and out of that still further came to believe that people had -- people had to give
of themselves. they had to serve their family, they had to serve their community, they had to serve the nation and both of them believed that. the idea of service. i've called it by the 18th-century term duty in the book. they had a sense of duty and it was that sense of duty that made john served the nation and the sense of duty they both had. it was like a calling, a kind of providence in religious terms that said people existed for the purpose of doing service to the community and the nation and that was very clearly a part of their patriotism. a major part of the patriotism. the impulse for the patriotism. both of them also have more tolerant of each other and they gave each other space to grow.
in the entire arc of the 54 years each of them had incredible experiences that changed their lives, and each of them tolerated that difference that developed in the other and appreciated, and that allowed both of them to change and develop over the period of time and one of the challenges in avoiding a book, a biography any time but particularly a double biography is to follow the arc of a life, followed the ark of two lives in this case and see the changes people made in their lives, how they developed, and in this case to see, to observe the tolerance each had for each other. and finally, the last component of the wonderful marriage that i would -- all i wrote about and would take into account is their
playfulness. they teased each other from the time they first met and during their courtship until both of them passed away more than 50 years later. and teasing and playfulness is an important way to develop harmony in a relationship. they could talk about sensitive issues about potentially antagonistic issues and play it as a joke, as a tea use as a really wasn't important and because the issues came through at such a of level but was later rather than combat confrontational, and this playfulness existed throughout the marriages, i believe this
was an enhancement in their relationship. it made it possible for them to live with each other 54 years of change and development without having huge antagonism and conflict, which there was. at a time there was conflict but most of the time it was a very generous and tolerant and equal of relationship. the other f-ing on a would like to talk about is how i feel about abigail and john and separately, individually and why is it i am able to work on abigail adams for 30 years? it's unusual to for a scholar to write about one person for this long. leon has written about henry
james, i think he wrote eight volumes on henry james, and other biographers do but it is on usual. i have to tell you after i finished the first biography i had withdraw from abigail. it pained me that i was now writing about her anymore and along came a book publisher and asked me to write a second biography for a series so that is how i happened to bite the second one and when i was done with that i was again bereft and the reason is i loved reading her letters. her letters are a delight to read and there are endless numbers of letters i can continue reading probably for the rest of my life and my theory may well do this the rest of my life. because she was such an interesting woman. i love the fact abigail adams was proud to be a woman. that was not something that was
a major factor in the women's lives in the 18th century. pride at being a woman. it was a differential century. it was a century when women fought men were better than women and men felt women were better and abigail, abigail was proud to be a woman and spoke up for women all of the time and she expressed her pride and satisfaction in her life, and she demanded that from other people. i love the fact that she was self educated. she was a person that in her early life was educated as women were educated, that is learning to read and write maybe a little bit of french and to do of arithmetic. the women were taught to read, not necessarily to write so they could read the bible and women were taught to do arithmetic so
they could keep account. abigail used the time when john was a way to read and she educated herself. and she became an amazingly area like woman. she read a broadly in history, and literature but she also read medical and scientific books as well and she read philosophy and she read a political science so she was able to converse with any human being in her age as an equal. i love the fact that this woman who experienced huge adversity in her life, and i have often thought about whether i would change places with her after all she is famous in the history books, and i wouldn't because it was knocked a pleasant life. she had a hard life for all of
her adult years. she didn't see it that way. life -- the idea of happiness wasn't something people expected to be a component of life, and she lived through a revolution and post revolutionary period. there were few periods of her life when she wasn't faced with a crisis of some sort. the death of two children, three if you count a childhood infancy but the death of two adult children. so she was a survivor, she faced adversity and survive adversity would but she grew every time. people can come from the adversity and shrivel but abigail faced adversity and crises and all the times grew and expanded and it made her wiser and more engaged in a life
and more compassionate for other people. i love the fact she was authentic. she was herself always. when she became first lady she wrote a letter to her sister that said if you see me putting on airs ever please tell me about and call me and remind me of my roots and who i am. she was pleased to be of her social class, of her era and gender. she was an authentic person. she was also consistent in that is the people that were her friends in her youth remained her friends for her lifetime. she didn't discard people because she rose in her social class or because her position became more elevated. she was consistent in her ideas. she didn't change her opinions in order to be a popular person.
and that has made her not just a very enjoyable figure to light about but a model for women and a model for women in my time who were looking for feminist models in the past. she was always political but, she is what i call a pro bowl feminist, that is i don't think she was a feminist. she didn't ask for political rights, she didn't ask for the vote, but she did believe women should be treated respectfully before the law and with equal justice before the law and she was also antislavery and i will get to that so she was a wonderful model both in her time and hours. i have also come over the years to love john adams.
and one of the reasons that he is such a greek hero to me is that his transparency. john adams is someone we can get to know as a human being. john adams led his feelings show. john adams wrote about his feelings and then didn't throw out either his letters or his diaries. he wrote a diary at a young age from the time he was in college until the end of his life and he wrote autobiography's also and then he wrote hundreds of letters and all the time in his writings he would take his temperature and say am i too ambitious? am i to nds? and the consequence of his exploring his own feelings is that historians have had all this ammunition to say he was to ambitious and too envious and no
other founding father has left the kind of record that john adams did. they burned their letters to their wives. washington's letters to martha washington were burned so there is no correspondence between any either of them in fact martha washington leaves only three letters in her lifetime. thomas jefferson burned his correspondence with his wife so we don't even know anything about his wife. traces of these women have been lost but not only did they even raise their wives from history but they eve raced their own emotions in a way that john adams didn't. he left these documents for historians to work with and it makes it wonderful because he was a person who becomes very human and all of his own writing about himself. he was brilliant, he was an amazingly creative man and it's fun to be around creative
people, so it's fun to read the ideas that he had. and john adams never used, he was a wonderful writer, he never used to adjectives when he could use 12, and he did use 12. he just had this amazing capacity to invent and play out ideas wonderful prose so they're reading him is reading it very fine person. he was courageous in two senses. he was courageous and an intellectual sense and that he defended the on the popular members of the british soldiers who participated in the boston massacre when many other lawyers
of his time wouldn't defend them because it was a theory on popular stance to take he did do this because he said no one should want a lawyer in court. everyone should have a lawyer to go into court. she was also physically courageous. he was courageous and that he went across the ocean several times in the winter when traveling in the winter and one of those little boats, there were 125 feet long is not something anyone chose to do. people travel in the summer but he traveled in the winter because that is when he was needed. he was physically courageous in that he handled a gun when i was necessary. he was physically courageous to do that because it captured he would have been a trader and then considered a traitor by the british. so, he was quite remarkable as a person of great courage.
he was a whit as i mentioned a couple of times. he was very funny in his writings which makes it a pleasure to read. he was a person of great passion. he hated well and he loved well and that makes john is very fascinating and inspiring person to deal with, so this pretty much explains why i have so enjoyed working on the adams is in the course of writing this book but in the entire 30 plus villamil years that i have worked on the adamses. if you will indulge me i will read aided of my portrayal of abigail and john from my book and i will read a portion of first about john and then a portion of about abigail and the
portion about john comes from the period 1775 when the revolutionary war had just begun and he is writing in his diary and this is particularly a letter to abigail. oh, that i was a soldier or the continental congress recently convened in the spring of 1775. i will be, and reading military books. everybody must and will and shall be a soldier. john was zealous. however, since he had no prior military experience and couldn't expect a rank higher than lieutenant he concluded he would be more effective in the halls of congress. by 1775 in fact john was widely acknowledged in those calls as a leader of the release faction.
he no longer wait for tom issues of war and independence that committed himself for the duration. my life and health ought to be a hazard in the cause of my country, he wrote to abigail, and as well as yours and all my friends. he could foresee the challenge would be daunting. the difficulty and the intricacy is prodigious, he wrote further. when 50 or 60 men have a constitution to form for a great empire at the same time they have a country of 1500 miles extent to fortified millions to arm, a naval power to begin an extensive commerce to regulate, numerous strikes of indian to negotiate with, standing army of 27,000 men to raise and pay an officer i shall pity those 50 or 60 men. that was john's short list. he was in his element as he never